Maegan Carberry has worn many hats in her media career, from Arianna Huffington’s chief of staff to Chicago Tribune columnist. Now, Carberry is heading up communications for Rock the Vote, the well known voter registration organization.
PRNewser caught up with Carberry this week for her first feature interview since joining the organization this past April.
What can we expect to hear from Rock the Vote this election season? How has the organization’s messaging changed in recently?
First off, it is our 20 year anniversary. We were founded in 1990, after there was a movement to censor music in America. A bunch of recording industry executives came together to empower people who listened to their music.
The first campaign was called “Censorship Is Un-American,” and from there everything extrapolated. Madonna was one of the first people to sign on.
We’re celebrating that, but the way we’re celebrating is to do a lot of work. We’re doing the biggest push for a mid-term in the organization’s history. We have people on the ground in states around the country. It’s a testament to how much momentum young people have gained. There is so much potential in digital activism.
Besides that, you’ll hear a bunch from us about things that are going on in hot states like Florida and Ohio, and a lot about our 20 year anniversary and what we’ve achieved.
How much more of a challenge is it to get people out to the voting booths during non-presidential election years?
It’s definitely a little bit more difficult, because things are fragmented. There are regional races and there is no one primary race like the presidential election, where people can see metrics of success. You have to be able to explain a more complicated story.
To that end, contrary to what a lot of people think, even though there is, on average a 15% drop off in midterm election voter turnout, the momentum of young voters has also increased in midterms if you compare them against themselves.
So we’re actually dealing with moving momentum there too. It is harder than the presidential election, but it is something that has steam behind it.
Do you work with any PR agencies at Rock the Vote?
We partner with a number of organizations and we have worked with outside agencies in the past. We will consider things like that again as the race heats up.
How big is Rock the Vote’s marketing team?
We have three people and a “half” person in LA, who helps make sure we’re connecting the dots with talent, messaging and events.
How do you balance working in both “traditional” and “digital” media?
We collaborate. We have a digital director, and we work in a collaborative way. It’s a seamless thing in our view because we know that digital and traditional are pushing each other simultaneously.
I have to say, there is a very exciting opportunity specifically in digital, because voting is such a peer to peer thing, and what happens in peer to peer networks could be very surprising.
You’ve been both a reporter and a PR person. How does your reporting experience help your PR skills?
I think of my entire career as one long investigative journalism report. I started out being serious about looking into what motivated people to be civic-minded.
I started out writing opinion columns, and when that became less of a valuable role in journalism, I found new ways to tell stories. It’s always been keeping your ears to what people are saying. I don’t feel I do anything different now than what I set out to do.
What do you make of the Obama White House’s use of social media? What are they doing well, and what could they be doing better?
It’s really cool to see candidates and people in power make use of new technologies. I love seeing those types of leaders on Twitter. The White House Flickr feed is one of my favorite go to stopping points. It gives people access to stuff they previously couldn’t see.
There were fewer constraints during the campaign on what people could and couldn’t do, so I think that they are experimenting with different things and it got a lot better this year than in 2009.
What are you daily “must reads?”
I start every morning with Politico’s Playbook, often in bed with my Blackberry. I spend my train ride Huffington Post Hill, a newsletter from the Huffington Post, and a great re-cap of what happened that day. Those are the two things I read every day right now.
My Twitter feed is the most important part of the day. I like the surprise element of who’s going to have something cool to say. West Wing Report is my favorite tweeter.
Burson Marsteller CEO and democratic strategist Mark Penn recently said, ‘Obama could lose 25 seats in the house and four senate seats and still call it a midterm victory’ What’s your take on that?
I think this election is up for grabs to any candidate who pays attention to successful models in recent elections. Whether that was Karl Rove’s first successful mid-term for an incumbent party in 2002 or Obama in 2008…people who mobilize young voters always win.